GHS Cares: What to Know About Anxiety
Anxiety is not an uncommon emotion. In fact, as doctors and parents, we are no strangers to feeling anxious ourselves at times. Anxiety can help people remember things, inspire action, work harder and perform better. As long as anxiety does not stop somebody from carrying out activities in typical daily life, then it is not considered to be a health problem.
However, anxiety can become a health problem if it gets to the point where the emotion takes control, preventing somebody from living a normal life. For example, anxiety becomes problematic when one has to limit-- or completely stop-- his or her regular activities, or when somebody experiences disabling physical symptoms such as pain or shortness of breath. In these cases when anxiety beings to interfere with going places, performing well at school or work, or with relationships, then it may be considered an anxiety disorder.
Fact #1 The medical diagnosis of generalized anxiety disorder is when anxiety causes disabling problems for someone on most days for more than 6 months.
There are many types of anxiety diagnoses in medicine, and Generalized Anxiety Disorder or “GAD” is the most general one. The manual which defines mental health disorders specifies at least nine types of anxiety disorders: Separation Anxiety, Selective Mutism, Specific Phobia (like fear of spiders or flying), Social Phobia, Panic Attacks, Agoraphobia (fear of leaving one’s home), Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Substance-Induced Anxiety, and Anxiety Due to Another Medical Condition. Additionally there are other disorders, such as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which involve feelings of anxiety as well.
Fact #2 Each year, nearly 20% of Americans will suffer from an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety disorders are quite common, especially in developed countries like the United States. Women are affected about twice as much as men. Not surprisingly, people who have had difficult or traumatic life experiences or who experience chronic pain or other diseases are more likely to have a problem with anxiety. Examples of things that make people more likely to have anxiety include: separation from a parent, growing up without enough money or food to eat, and decreased mobility from disease or getting older.
Fact #3 Only about 30% of people with anxiety disorder seek treatment even though anxiety disorders are highly treatable.
For all types of mental and physical health, we always like to remind patients about lifestyle approaches to healing, including getting regular sleep and exercise, eating a healthy diet with fresh vegetables and fruits, daily sunlight exposure, engaging in positive relationships (and avoiding negative ones), and eliminating substances and stimulants that can make anxiety worse like tobacco, alcohol and caffeine. Depending on the type of anxiety disorder, medical treatments are also recommended-- for Generalized Anxiety Disorder we typically recommend Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or “CBT” and/or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or “SSRI’s.” An SSRI is a type of medication, some of which can even be prescribed to pregnant women and children. Some commonly prescribed SSRI’s include Fluoxetine (Prozac) or Sertraline (Zoloft). “CBT” is performed by a trained, licensed therapist. This type of therapy works by designing a plan to move step-by-step towards a goal, conquering fears one small step at a time in order to accomplish the goal of being able to control feelings of anxiety and act normally again.
The bottom line is that everyone feels anxious at times, and usually anxiety is a helpful emotion. However, if you are concerned that anxiety is getting in the way of your life or any loved one’s normal life, we encourage you to discuss this with your family doctor. This is especially important if you are feeling troubled with physical symptoms, like pain or breathing problems. Your doctor can help consider whether this could be a mental and/or physical health problem and may recommend testing and therapies. The good news is that a majority of those with anxiety disorders do respond well to treatment and get better with time.
Dr. Liz Baltaro and Dr. Amy Nayo are primary care physicians expanding community access to quality pediatric and family medicine at Granville Primary Care, Butner-Creedmoor, located at 1614 NC Highway 56, Butner. To schedule your primary care appointment, please call 919-575-6103 or schedule online at ghshospital.org. You can schedule a primary care appointment with a provider as far as 12 months in advance through online scheduling.